Advocates Call for India Spellman to be Exonerated


Courtesy of Jessica Griffin

India Spellman’s mother has been fighting her daughter’s case.

Sarah Brady

On Aug. 18, 2010, George Bud Greaves, an innocent WWII veteran, was killed in an attempted robbery-turned-murder. Two days later, on Aug. 20, 2010, another innocent life was taken. India Spellman was wrongfully accused of the murder and linked robberies. Despite coercion, police brutality, illegitimate claims, forgotten alibis and Spellman being only 17, she was tried as an adult and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Still today – more than 10 years later – Spellman sits in prison at SCI Cambridge Springs for a crime she did not commit. 

Police showed up on Aug. 20, 2010 to take Spellman in for questioning regarding Von Combs, the co-defendant on the case. Combs had been at the house two days prior when the crimes had occurred. India’s grandfather and retired Philly police officer, Bruce Stafford Sr., was not concerned when Spellman got taken in on this day.

Von Combs had spoken with Spellman regarding his position as quarterback on the high school football team in the early afternoon of the murder and left alone, after borrowing Spellman’s jacket. That was the last time Spellman had seen Von Combs. 

On the way to the station, Spellman’s father, Bruce Stafford Jr., requested counsel for Spellman but was assured there was no need for an attorney as the detectives would only be asking a few questions. At the police station, Spellman’s mother, Morkea Spellman, refused to give consent for the interrogation of her daughter. 

At 5 p.m. on Aug. 20, Morkea was told to go home as her daughter had allegedly confessed to the murder of George Bud Greaves. However, according to police records, it was not until 6:10 p.m. that the interrogation of Spellman by Detectives Henry Glen and James Pitts even began. 

After the interrogation began, Spellman claims she was slapped in the face by Detective Pitts and told if she signed a paper, she could go home. Spellman adhered and then, struggling to read the paper, asked Detective Pitts to read it for her. Pitts refused and sent Spellman to booking. 

Pitts denies the accusations. Nonetheless, according to court documents and victim trials, Detective Pitts has been subject of more than 11 citizen complaints, five internal investigations, two partner violence occurrences, alleged assaults of witnesses and has been on six cases that the city has settled for a total of $1 million. 

Further, there have been multiple cases where individuals have received exonerations after Pitts’ illicit involvement in the cases. Pitts was moved off street duty in June 2021 following the various claims of eliciting false confessions and physically assaulting suspects. 

Revered Villanova Professor and Founder of Philadelphia Justice Project for Women & Girls, Jill McCorkel, offered insight into the matter.

“Good detective work begins with an interrogation process that everyone can have confidence in – ensuring the rights of the accused,” McCorkel said. “Professional requirements dictate that Pitts not have separated her from her parents…If Pitts believes she did it, you want a confession that is persuasive in court and stands on appeal. Creating these situations that often result in wrongful convictions undermines the integrity of the District Attorney’s Office. Justice, in this case, means making sure that never happens again – we need to protect juveniles.” 

When Spellman finally did receive an attorney, the legal guidance was near negligent. Though Spellman was home with her father and grandfather at the time of the crimes, her father and grandfather were never contacted by Lawyer Harry Seay for an alibi. Phone evidence corroborated her alibi by showing Spellman started a 25-minute phone call at 3:33 p.m., overlapping the 3:52 p.m. pronunciation of Greaves’ death that was never addressed in court. 

Eye witness discrepancies were not properly probed. For example, eyewitnesses claimed the suspect was a “thick, dark-skinned, 25 to 30-year-old woman wearing a hijab,” while Spellman was a skinny, light-skinned, teenage girl never known to dress in Muslim head coverings. 

At 9 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2021, India was set to have her PCRA hearing in the Philadelphia Center for Criminal Justice. India was set to sit in front of Judge Scott DiClaudio and ask for a direct appeal of the Superior Court’s decision which would then lead to a retrial and eventual exoneration. Tragically – despite facing reschedules and date changes for nearly two years now – the December 14th PCRA hearing has once again been rescheduled for a date yet to be set in the coming year. 

Notably, the Philadelphia Justice Department has never exonerated a woman. 

Though many feel this could happen to any young black youth, Sarah Morris – the current Co-Director for the Youth and Art Self-Empowerment Project who worked closely with India through her initial 2010 trials, states otherwise.

 “The treatment of India in the media was particularly harsh given she was a young black woman and was accused of killing an olderwhite man,” Morris said. “She and her co-defendant were demonized in the media. Even her lawyer wasskeptical of her story. It had to do with being a young black woman.” 

Morris continued to explain that the majority of people who are impacted by the criminal and legal system are black and brown in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but the people who make the lawsare predominantly white legislators from outside of those two cities. 

“There is a big disconnect there and the people who are making the laws don’t have any actual investment in whether or not locking people up actually makes us safe, which at this point we really know it does not,” Morris said. The biggest barrier is how to remove people who make the laws from the impacts of thoselaws and the racism that pervades a lot of it.”

For Dr. McCorkel, the call to action is simple for Villanova students.

 “One of the most important things students can do is raise awareness and show up,” McCorkel said. “It makes a huge differencewhen people are visible. Visibility with bodies in court but also on social media. The more people that are posting about India and talking about the case – that is press.”